Canopus Station
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A Happening Town

Posted on Sun Oct 6th, 2019 @ 9:23pm by The Narrator & Lieutenant Commander Meilin Jiang & Lu'kat

Mission: S1E4: Upon A Darkening Tide
Location: Outskirts of Landersfell, Carpathia
Timeline: MD01 1040

Landersfell would not be winning any Michelin Stars anytime soon.

Separated from the landing field by a few kilometres of flattened salt planes, the skyline of Landersfell was occupied by the bulk of the crashed Acheron. The blocking rectangle of a ship had come down hard on the four impulse motors on each corner of its frame and had come to rest at an angle when one of the landing gear had cracked through the salt plane. Dust was already scouring the paint from the hull, leaving gaps in the lettering of its name and colony logo.

Landersfell grew up around it, but not in a way that seemed utterly planned for. Bubble fab housing units inflated and cured solid by the heat nestled against converted cargo containers, laser torches having been used to make openings and windows in the thick space rated metal. Three streets fanned out from the Acheron, and Babbish's convoy deposited Meilin and Lu'kat at the top of the middle fan: Main Street Carpathia.

The trucks then continued on, taking a long way around to the other side of the Acheron where the heavy industry was taking place away from the civilian masses.

"I suggest we begin by identifying a social gathering place," Meilin said to Lu'kat. "A local watering hole, as it is said."

Lu'kat looked around, getting his bearings, before answering: "A bit of a generic place to start investigations, but I suppose it suits our purposes", Lu'kat stated.

He noted the dust covered dwellings, looking ancient even though they weren't, sensing their looks had less to do with the elements they were exposed to than one would be inclined to think. "I'd say Landersfell reminds me of Cardassia just after the Dominion War. I've seen many refugee camps just like this, filled with people trying to pick up their lives again, except with one important difference...."

"No massacre," Meilin offered. "Though they were shot down by a wayward Starfleet battery, the colonists themselves do not seem as refugees or victims. Only survivors."

"Everyone that lived passed that fateful day on Cardassia was a survivor, myself included..." Lu'kat fell silenced as the memories flooded over him, as they had so many times in the past. The screams of his friends and co-workers, the deafening silence after the Jem-Hadar were finished with them, the mutilated corpses strewn about the place... He had survived, yes, but something within him had died that day, and had died over and over again every day since.

"But these survivors are different, when I look into their eyes, I see a dullness, an emptiness, of something missing... Whereas Cardassians were full of hope, determination and a strong desire to rebuild. Within days most corpses were cremated, within weeks the most rubble cleared, within months new skylines had started to appear across the landscape. Landersfell, however, shows no such development. What do you think, Lieutenant Commander?"

The line of discussion felt off point, which meant either the Cardassian was angling toward something specific or they were sharing a rare personal moment together. Meilin was unsure of which it could be. "Your Union has stood for centuries, in one form or another, which meant Cardassia had the collective might of your people, to say nothing of allies, to assist in the reconstruction." Meilin stared ahead as they walked. "This place is a wilderness, an unknown frontier where death is imminent and life is a gamble, where the people have no one to trust but themselves, as even their guardians were overtaken and compromised. The lack of development is to be expected with the population and resources of a single commercial district from your point of reference. But the emptiness..."

Meilin stopped walking for a moment and looked to her companion. "What you're seeing, Mr. Lu'kat, is the death and rebirth of a civilization. They don't know who they are or who they will be because they have no assurance of living long enough to find out." She continued walking toward the heart of the settlement.

Lu'kat carefully weighed the Lt. Commander's words. "Even so, they came to this part of the galaxy to start a new life. It might not be on a planet of their choosing and, of course, they had gotten off to a bad start. But the attack was stopped, and it is unlikely to happen again, judging from yesterday's battle, Canopus station is a decent first line of defence, despite my earlier assessment about its vulnerability. There are vast resources buried in the soil, ripe for exploitation. These colonists are literally sitting on a goldmine, to borrow one of your human expressions. They can turn this calamity into an opportunity, if they were to change their mindset." Like Cardassia did.... Like he had done, again and again.

Sparing but a sidelong glance for the Cardassian, Meilin gave a near imperceptible shake of her head -- not only for his sullen disregard for the remarkable feat of survival the colonists had done in scant few months, but also for his callous focus on industrial resources. Project Long Jump may have partnered with the Cardassian Union to make the expeditions possible, but this was still a Federation colony. For now.

From shuttered windows and shadowed doorways, eyes watched the two strange beings walk down the street. One in the uniform of an officer of Starfleet, and the other in the black and grey armour of the Cardassian Union. Word and rumour would spread fast that such a pair was here, from lip to ear and across the air by means electronic.

Along the street, a larger building sat, this one less ramshackle and hurriedly built. It was a premade two-storey building, built in the 'survive comet impact' school of design favoured by frontier colonies. Most new colonies grew up around such Colonial Administration Buildings, where the deeds for plots of land could be filed and bid for, and claims civil and federal could be heard by a magistrate. These were the town halls of small colonies, the start of civilisation on the frontier.

The door swung open, and jaunty music on string wafted out along with two men who stumbled more out of the shock of the sun than anything they had been drinking. They sobered up quickly upon seeing the Starfleet Delta on Meilin's chest, giving a slight nod as they walked away.

Lu'kat watched in fascination as the two men walked away. Up until now he had only encountered humans as a friendly people, with their bellies full and their holosuites working. Never before had he encountered them in places of poverty and deprivation such as here. He had always wondered what would happen if one were to take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep and sonic showers. It looked like he was finally getting a chance to find out.....

The interior had been redone to serve as a commissary, a combination mess hall, general store and tavern for the colonists of Landersfell. Tables and chairs in one third, a bar along the back, and a small Class 1 industrial replicator that was currently powered down on the other side. A large Samoan man sat beside the phone booth sized machine, dozing it seemed, a pipe wrench laid across his lap.

The music was coming from a young woman sat by the bar, a small harp in her hands plinking out a delightfully rambunctious tune. There were a few patrons, one of them currently resting atop the bar snoring in horrid counterpoint. Other's were scattered among the printed tables, nursing drinks and meals, their discussions suddenly hushed as attention was drawn by their guests.

"Be kind but firm," Meilin said under her breath, as much to herself as Lu'kat. Taking a support forward, she announced herself in a clear voice, "Greetings. I am Lieutenant Commander Meilin Jiang of Canopus Station. After the unfortunate crisis which led to current events, we have come to render aid. You will find additional Starfleet personnel conducting repairs, delivering much needed humanitarian supplies, and performing other assorted disaster relief efforts. For my part, I am conducting a public forum among the Landersfell population, and I would welcome the input of all to be included in my report to station administration. We are hear to listen, so please, stand up now, name yourself, and be heard."

She inhaled and exhaled deeply, preparing herself for the inevitable ugly truth born from such settings.

"Hear hear", Lu'kat joined in, "it is as my counterpart has stated. Though I am but one, I have the ear of the Cardassian Union government which has charged me to work together with the Federation towards the betterment of the people on Carpathia. Come forward with your queries, and together," he gestured to Lt. Commander Meilin and the rest of the people in the room, "we will move forward."

So, Lu'kat thought, That should do for now.... He scanned the room, wondering if anyone would take the bait.

For a long moment, the morning rush of drinkers and customers looked over at the odd couple. This was an important first step for both Meilin and Lu'kat, establishing Canopus Station & the Cardassian Union as powers of authority and trust. If this were a story or fable, contrived by a writers room of talent and mirth, this would have been the moment a local stood up to their call. 'Look my fellows! For civilisation and stability have come to save us from the chaos of our fates!'.

Maybe they were on a coffee break? Union rules, you know.

The crowd went back to their drinks and rations, hushed conversations returning to a muttered level of disinterest. Even the young girl with the harp returned to playing, changing up the tune from the more morose ditty she'd been plying to one with a foot-tapping beat. A group holding court in the corner huddled in closer around one of their members.

The crowd reacted as Lu'kat had expected, and noted with interest the central figure of the group huddled in the far corner. Hidden mostly by the folk huddling around him, Lu'kat could discern a hood, a beard specked through with grey and a pipe which when lit up, revealed steel blue eyes looking right back at Meilin and him...

Lu'kat gave him the slightest of nods to let the stranger know he had been noticed, and then turned to Meilin. Even though they spoke no words, Lu'kat knew from her look that she had noticed it, too. Relaxing his features, Lu'kat's face lost some of its stern features, but not all. Sometimes, back at Starbase 42, his Starfleet colleagues had placed bets to see who could tease a smile out of their resident Cardassian. None had succeeded, and Lu'kat liked it that way.

He gestured to the bar, indicating he was going to get a drink.

The bar, with its all-organic musical player, still had the shiny almost too new look of something printed out of a replicator. No scuffs, a few dew rings from condensing glasses. but nothing structural. No dents from when that fight went on too long, or scrap marks from that time that patron got on the countertop to sing 'Its A Long Road To Rigel VII'.

And then the bartender materialised.

He had the poise of surgeon, the hands of a healer, and the dower expression of a man who had served the role of a doorstop more than once in his life. His expression was unimpressed as standard, and his balding receding hairlines did not so much as simulate the look of sweat. He was also dressed in civilian clothes, the classic barman's apron wrapped around black slacks and a white shirt.

The Mk3 Emergency Medical Hologram, styled after its creator famed holographic engineer Dr Zimmerman, took a towel from under the bar and whipped it over his shoulder like a half cape.

"So I see my warranty has come due," the EMH said dryly with a raised eyebrow. "I warn you now my regular customers will not look favourable on my removal from the premise after I had the replicator's activation sequence coded to my holographic matrix."

Ah, Lu'kat thought, a hologram... This could prove either disruptive or advantageous to his plans, it would depend on how the photonic being had been programmed.

"There must be something off with your programming then, clearly I am not a maintenance worker seeking to de-activate you, but a traveller looking for a drink and information."

"I find it continually fascinating that when a biological promotes whimsy as conversation it is seen as witty, and whilst when one of the photonic persuasion attempts it it is seen as a dangerous imbalance in their governing software," Emkay the holographic doctor turned bartender said. "A drink I can provide, but for the information, you would need to be more accurate in your search parameters."

Lu'kat had never understood why holograms had been programmed with a personality. That was such a human thing to do. In his years he watched them humanise everything from pets to furniture to -and this especially baffled him- transport vessels (which for some reason was always referred to as a female).

"In my experience human drinks are mostly bubbly, cloying...and happy, which is rather dull, so give me the strongest you got", Luke demanded instead of asked, after all, he was talking to a computer programme. "Information-wise, what can you tell me about that hooded fellow in the corner?" He nodded subtly to the stranger he had seen before.

With a raised eyebrow Emkay worked a small control panel under the bar. A panel on the counter top's smooth finished illuminated with a flashing red border. With a buzz like a swarm of bees, the drinks fabricator got to work making something out of nothing. Atom's foamed up from the panel, little billiard balls lining up perfectly as they were woven into silica glass and then complex proteins and glycols.

With a little puff of sublimating matter, the red hazard signs vanished, and the glass and its content are sat on the countertop.

"A Camorri Ginger Spit," Emkay said gesturing to the glass. "One part cooking wine, one part ginger oil, and one part a chemical accelerant I am half convinced is a replicator error. But it all reads as safe, especially for a Cardassian's physiology."

He leaned forward slightly.

"And as for the gentleman across the way, holding court, I know little. Other than the fact he was thawed not four days ago along with most of his companions there, part of the second wave of reanimated," Emkay said. "And in those four days, he has his cohorts have remained there. No one has come to speak to them, nor have they sought anyone else. Given the second wave of CryoCasket revival's were all mission priority personnel...well one does have to ponder."

Lu'kat inspected his drink. It was a reddish brown with what seemed like a pulsating greenish glow flowing through it. The smell reminded him of ancient fossil fuel powered vehicles mixed with the venom of the deadly Lakarian viper. Lu'kat liked the drink already. Taking a sip and swiveling the liquid around his mouth felt as if a thousand pins were teasing him and his tastebuds. Yes. Definitely he liked it. Camorri Ginger Spit was stored in his brain for future use.

Concerning the stranger, Lu'kat listened to the bartender with great interest. Having prepared such a welcoming drink had made Lu'kat a smidgeon more sympathetic to the hologram, but only that. Lu'kat pondered the information the holo-Doc-turned-barkeep had given him.

He tried to connect the barkeep's information to the Commander's view on Landersfell current state of affairs and found he couldn't. He could understand the sentiments of the people having lived through the crash and the attack by the Traveller, but that didn't explain the vibes given off by those people in that corner who had supposedly come out of cryo-stasis mere days ago. They didn't carry the trauma of their shipmates who had lived through their terrible ordeals.

Something is very wrong, here Lu'kat thought as he surveyed the room again, scanning for possible threats and exit-routes once more.

"So tell me, "he said, addressing the barkeep once more, "as I am sure you have excellent observational subroutines built into your programme. What do you think of the patrons frequenting your bar?

"Tired. They signed on to awaken to build a new world on a planet that would welcome them, here is hardly the port of call they wished to arrive at," Emkay said thoughtfully. "Though it has been a while since I used my psychology algorithms for anything other than musing about the life others have led."

Lu'kat pondered the hologram's words and wondered how it was possible humans had come to become such a force in the Alpha Quadrant, with their United Federation of Planets and Starfleet, if there were elements among them such as this lot here on Carpatia, who seemed to give up on things when the road ahead was a bit bumpy. Cardassia, Andoria and Vulcan all had harsh climates and their cultures flourished. Carpathia could be so much more, why didn't they see it!

Before annoyance could overtake his emotions, he focused his mind on other things. "Thank you for your service." Lu'kat stated politely, "please send over a list of needed supplies for this establishment, and I'll make sure it's sent down." He finished his drink and turned to look for Lieutenant Commander Jiang.

While Lu'kat patronized the bar, Meilin moved closer to the harpist and allowed the pulsing rhythm to flow through her. Eyes closed, she welcomed the serene state of mind that facilitated everything from meditation to mentalism. Though unfamiliar at first, Meilin felt the melody pass through her and allowed it to waken a familiar form within her muscle memory. Movement without thought, action without will, Meilin felt her hands rise and flow in an unseen wave that mirrored the music around them. Her form was flawless. Her balance shifted fore and aft, limbs ebbing and flowing like the tide. It was not a perfect fusion of cultures, but it seemed a suitable response to the inactivity and silence to her public address. When the harpist concluded her current song, Meilin brought her routine to a swift close and then bowed to the musician with one fist tucked into her palm.

The harpist smiled, leaning the harp against her chest, and gave a demure clap of her hands. This turned into a ragged little thunderstorm, gaining in number if not actual heart, as a few of the nearer patrons noticed.

"Huum. Rigorous muscular exercise can result in the excess build-up of lactic acid. Could I perhaps interest you in an analgesic balm, or perhaps a calming tea?" the Bartender said.

"She don't be needing a calming tea to do away with the spirit that got into her," the harpist commented with a lilt to her voice mimicking that of the Captain of the Traveller. "A soul get's a direction direct from the Navigator herself, she'd be in fine company to follow it."

"Huum, perhaps I'll just make a calming tea and leave it her in case either of you changes direction?" he asked wryly.

"Tea would be lovely." Meilin gave the Bartender a tight but cordial smile. Turning to the harpist again, Meilin regarded her carefully and took an educated guess. "The Maker of Ways guides us all." She reached into her pocket and removed an item that she had mass replicated on Canopus Station following the establishment of Cargo Reef. "My people call this a luopan. It is a southward facing compass that is used to navigate heaven and earth." She offered the brass disc to the harpist. Though it was only a few centimeters in diameter, its two small plates were surrounded by forty concentric circles of engraved formulas and markings.

The harpist took the luopan, settling the small traveller's harp down on the counter, and looked over the compass with the respect of a scholar reviewing ancient manuscripts. She then reached forward, and placed it back into Meilin's hand.

"I canny be accepting such a fine gift from you," she said with a smile. "Direction through life is hard enough to navigate without proper instrumentation, and for a Rish to take such a thing from another is powerful bad luck. Liable to have something crawl up the Well and grab me right quick if I affronted the Navigator like that. Reckon she and your Maker Of Ways might be rowing in the same philosophical pond."

Emkay placed a small tray between Meilin and the harpist, who upon closer examination couldn't have been older than fifteen or sixteen if she was a day. Her tall stature sitting down might have confused, but the eyes and face were those of a girl in transition. Not exactly frontier material.

The tea smelled appealing, so Meilin indulged a sip. Not great, but neither terrible. More than anything, and despite the arid heat, it was good to have a hot beverage. "Then perhaps we can make a trade. Tell me all about your home here and the people in it, and you'll have earned yourself that compass free and clear."

"Without nay obligation or lien to it?" the Harpist asked. She bit her lip for a moment, and then came to a conclusion. "As long as its a trade, then fair is fair as far as I can see. And what ya see is be what yee be gettin' for a good little while. Folks who are up and about are the work a day types, what my mothers would go about calling roughnecks. Rockhoppers. If we were in free fall I reckon half the folk in this room would be grey dusted from asteroid prospecting."

She grinned.

"'cept we ain't in free fall, and these folks are either ships mechanics, farmers, or fabbers. Most are right folk, the rightest kinda right if you got me meaning to it..." her eyes drifted towards the knot of men at the back of the bar, still holding their private court. "Course you canny refine rock into steel without some slag rising to the top. Bunch'a black guard types. Reminds me of Bright Water Security goons that used to run the security contract on Gateway Station when I was a weein'. Sixth Mum Tabbatha used to say 'Gateway don't have Police, we have 'Security'. Story goes you could get away with anything on Gateway if the Bright Water folks got their taxes right and early. 'cept they just carry themselves like their all massed up, but ain't got no badge. Folk walk around them, like they got a well of their own you gotta slingshot around. Even the Acheron Security folk tap their hats to'em."

Meilin nodded knowingly. Every society had bottom-feeding scavengers who would masquerade as apex predators under the right, or wrong, circumstances. "Do these blackguards have a name?"

"Nay but the names folk's give'em" the Harpist said. "Well, 'cept the one there in the middle. Heard one of them lot call him 'Standish'. Said it right respectful like, like he was talkin' to the Captain of a Homesteader he was crewin' on. Overheard'em when I was out and about lookin' for a place to set me head down. They got a whole container sealed up on the edge of Portside, out by the first row of condenser towers. Not a lot of folk out on that edge, given them water suckers drone like live wires when they're operating."

"Their sealed container is guarded, no doubt," Meilin mused aloud. As she began to excuse herself, Meilin had to refrain from thanking the young Rish girl for her assistance. In the eyes of her culture, such a sentiment would nullify the even trade they had agreed upon. "It was a pleasure talking to you," she offered instead.

Getting up, she turned her head to linger her gaze upon Lu'kat at the bar, hoping to catch his eyes on her way to the hooded man and his retinue. Meilin approached them boldly though without an ounce of aggression, as a lamb to slaughter. "I wish to speak to Mr. Standish," she said evenly to the man with the beard and pipe poking out from his hood. "You are he, correct?"

The pipe bowl flared slightly, and on the exhale the palest reams of smoke drifted upwards from the hooded man's lips. Acrid, bitter, the barest hint of cinnamon. The other's around the table did not move, not to look at Meilin, nor to jockey for a position of advantage. Short leashes on hired men, or trained to the point posturing makes no difference.

"Somebody..." the hooded man said in accentless Federation Standard without looking up. "...has been singing entirely the wrong songs."

Meilin pulled up a chair from another table and shoehorned it into the hooded man's table. Her petite frame was an advantage there. "What songs are you singing, Mr. Standish?"

"The sort one might enjoy in private," he said, taking another pull on the pipe. As he breathed out, he pointed the stem of it at one of his fellows. "As is the right of my personage and that of my fellows, to not be interrogated by the anaemic arm of the Federation Starfleet. Though given this colony has no official charter under Federation law, I might well imagine anything might be possible. A man could write his own destiny here. Perhaps even their own obituary were they not careful."

Meilin smiled at Standish, allowing his veiled threat to pass over and through her like sand through a sieve. "I am here to ascertain the well-being of the colony. Besides your right to remain silent, are you faced with any concerns for your well-being or that of Landersfell?"

"Yes, Landersfell does seem to have that all too lacking rustic charm that the rest of the Federation lacks. It still has all of its rough edges, in glorious detail. No doubt those will be sanded away, to better incorporate it into the greater diaspora of civilisation?" Standish took another pull on his pipe. "Though if it did not, that would certainly lend those with vision a great deal more flexibility in how they go about their lives. What say you, Lieutenant Commander Meilin Jiang of the Federation Starfleet? What are your concerns for the future?"

"My chief concern for the future, Mr. Standish, is that it will belong to people of many words with nothing to say." The man had already identified himself as an agent of discord, which pinned him in Meilin's mind as either a member of the so-called Freedom's Legion or a highly likely proselyte, so Meilin thought to goad him into revealing more than he intended. There was no such thing as useless information at any rate.

"Some would say that is already the case, and yet there are still souls brave enough to step beyond the pampered walls of paradise to seek the freedom that cannot be granted by committee," Standish mused. He looked at his bare wrist and made a clucking noise with his tongue. "Alas, the sun moves towards the yard arm and I have much to do before the day is through. Am I to be permitted to leave, or would you prefer to continue our conversation?"

Lu'kat, who had silently taken up position behind Lieutenant Commander Jiang, observed the others seated at the table. Heads bowed down low, appearing to mind their own business, though it was clear they listened to every word Standish and Jiang exchanged. Lu'kat did not doubt their conversation was recorded and analysed elsewhere, along with a detailed data-search on him and the Lieutenant Commander, which meant they would find out about his links to the Order of 12, and label him a potential ally.... or enemy, depending on their own motives. He remained silent so his collegue could continue her conversation with Standish without being side-tracked.

Standish stood up, and in unison, the others of the table stood as well. Their eyes were shielded by black polarised lenses, removing that key facial tick to aid in reading their disposition. Standish reached into a pocket under his cloak and pulled out a similar pair of glasses that he placed over his eyes.

"Good day to you Commander Meilin Jiang, and to you as well Lu'kat," Standish said with a little bow of his head, his voice raised to speak to the entire bar. "I'm sure we'll see more of each other as Carpathia grows on all of us."

Having waited for Standish to dart away from his little corner and make a dramatic egress, Meilin took a breath and said to his back, "Thank you, Mr. Standish. You have been very helpful. I will be sure to send your recommendations to the highest offices."

"Be seeing you," he said. And his lips curled into a smile so cold, so free of mirth, it might well have frozen still warm harts blood.


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